Carbon tax:

Christopher Jordens writes: Re. “Sunday, Carbon Sunday: pollies on message for the pollution tax” (Friday, item 14).  Less than 48 hours after the introduction of Australia’s new carbon tax, defenders of carbon pollution have begun to torture logic.

Mining boss Clive Palmer kicked off the debate in an interview with ABC journalist Fran Kelly on the Breakfast show on ABC Radio National this morning by declaring that “the carbon tax discriminates against all Australians”. Does the carbon tax apply to all Australians equally? If so, then it is not discriminatory. Does the carbon tax apply only to Australian companies that produce the most carbon pollution? If so, then it discriminates against the big polluters, not against all Australians.

Are we to understand Palmer’s statement as contradictory, or as simply wrong? Either way, it’s not a promising start to the debate.

Kim Lockwood writes: Has anyone bothered to ask that forward-thinking Mr Abbott how he plans to get his carbon tax repeal legislation through the Senate?

Asylum seekers:

Mary Crock, professor of public law at the University of Sydney, and Daniel Ghezelbash, adjunct lecturer and PhD candidate at the University of Sydney, writes: Re. “Outsourcing the asylum-seeker problem? After this week, why not?” (Friday, item 1). The discourse on deterrence is ever troubling because of the assumptions made about the effect of policies. Departmental advice is that Nauru will deter no one: it will present no advance on the Christmas Island model because recognised refugees will continue to be resettled in Australia.

Malaysia is more likely to work as a deterrent in the shorter term as the proposal breaks the nexus between getting on a boat and resettlement in Australia, but the deterrent effect will only last as long as it takes to exhaust the 800 places allocated under the “arrangement” with that country. What neither proposal acknowledges is that refugees today are more savvy and connected than they have ever been — and so have become much harder to deter.

The vast majority of “our” asylum seekers come because they have existing connections in Australia. The internet and mobile phones have increased awareness of the likely effect of policies — and of refugee law as a protective option. This reality is apparent in the arrival today of yet another asylum-seeker boat off Christmas Island. The frantic politicking in Australia is being pushed by the smugglers as a “now or never” play to their clients in Indonesia.

The plain truth is that most of the countries in Australia’s  region  provide scant protections for refugees. Despite its relative wealth, the environment for refugees in Malaysia is positively toxic.  In recent fieldwork in that country, we encountered evidence of unconscionable neglect and abuse of basic human rights among the refugee communities.

Malaysia relies completely on UNHCR to identify refugees within the population of more than 1 million irregular migrants, making this UNHCR’s largest status determination operation in the world. Unless registered with this agency, refugees have no rights whatsoever, with no access to support services of any kind if they arrive with an illness; are injured when working in patently unsafe conditions; or are assaulted while living in the community.

We met a Burmese child rendered blind by untreated type 1 diabetes; and several children with massive disabilities due to untreated complications during their birth. We met a refugee (registered after his injury) who had had half his scull removed following a stroke induced by a severe beating when the man was detained as an illegal migrant. The situation of registered refugees are improving — their presence is now tolerated to the extent that they are charged half the foreigner’s rate for medical treatment.

Malaysia is still no place for vulnerable people who are by right Australia’s responsibility.

Christopher Pyne:

Guy Rundle writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (Friday, item 7). God I hate to have to defend Christopher Pyne, but it is absurd of  Kevin Brianton to suggest that he is “plagiarising” Lloyd Bentsen, by adapting his famous “I knew John Kennedy…” line — and a little bizarre that a lecturer in “strategic communication” thinks that he’s discovered a gotcha, because someone has repurposed one of the most famous and effective putdowns of the past 50 years.

If Brianton didn’t know this line, and didn’t know that this line was famous and now proverbial, he should retrain urgently. The Bolts and Hendersons go in for these pathetic gotcha accusations — no reason why anyone else should.

Peter Fray

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